DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

On My Way Home

TRAVEL BUG TALES: THE RETURN

Some folks might wonder if I ever spoke to my friends again, but dumping them was never on my agenda.  By breakfast the next morning everything was fine.  Frances even managed to make it to breakfast on time.

Going Home

At Customs our coconut rum friends discovered you could only take a certain amount of the elixir home with you, so they passed out bottles to whoever would take one.  I did.  I was scrutinized a little more carefully for the departure than I was for the entry.  Our flight stopped at some Florida airport for us to go through customs.  Then it was Houston Hobby and finally Love Field.

My dad was there to pick us up and I was rarely so glad to see him.  I loved him to death, but he was dad and I expected to always be able to see him.  After the disappointing week I’d had, he was especially good to see.  I can’t remember that he ever disappointed me, though I certainly managed to disappoint him often enough.

Dad asked if we were hungry and even though we weren’t particularly so, everyone agreed a Jack-in-the-Box taco would hit the spot.  It was one of my favorite meals ever.  All week long we’d dined on seafood, steaks and conch balls, but Jack-in-the-Box tacos meant I was home.

Staying Home

My next big adventure would be moving into the apartment with Debbie and Kathi.  That’s when the next section of my scrapbook begins. It’s called Wild in the Woods.  “Wild in the Woods” is the name of a song sung by my favorite local artist, Robert Lee Kolb.  His band was called the Local Heroes.  It is a fit title for the next years of my life.  I was wild and I was in the woods.

My gig at Sears ended after two years and I moved up to Little Rock, Arkansas for a job that I was only able to tolerate for about six months.  When I moved back to Dallas I moved in with my parents.  Debbie and Kathi had new roommates and new lives.  We were still buddies and I spent a lot of time in trouble for coming home late when we all went out together, but that’s another story for another time.

There was a very pivotal day in my life, that looked pretty ordinary at the start.  I was working at a bank and was a little at loose ends with my free time.  The wildness had been leeched out of me for a season and I wanted to avoid getting on that merry-go-round again.  So, I took at part-time job at Lord & Taylor’s to make a little money while I was staying out of trouble.  My first day on the job I met two very important people.  One was Deb Shera, who would turn out to be the very best friend anyone could have anywhere in the world.

After work I went to a party.  I’d been guilted into it by my old college friend Debbie, not to be confused with Deb, but I’ll admit it is confusing.  I’d plugged into a Singles Group at a local church and they were going bowling that evening.  Debbie wanted me to go to a party.  She was still looking for a love connection.  I was too, but I thought I would be more likely to find it with the church group than at some party with a bunch of people I had no personal connection to.  She pulled the ultimate threat on me, “If you were really my friend, you would…”  So I reluctantly went to the party.

The next album in my collection is called, “The Lost Years.”  The other person I met that fateful day would be the primary author of those days.  Come back next week and we’ll talk about him.

DESTINATIONS, TRAVEL, United States, WRITING

The Travel Gap

TRAVEL BUG TALES: THE LOST YEARS

Something strange happens in my “Family Vacation” scrapbook after 1974.  The family vacations continue, but I’m not in any of the pictures, with the exception of a couple of day trips.  In 1975, I took a detour.  Let’s talk about it.

What Did I Do Instead?

I graduated from  Bryan Adams High School in 1973 with great expectations.  Going away to Stephen F. was nothing I expected.  That’s a story for another day, but when I took the vacation with my family in 1974, I didn’t realize it was the end of a era.  It wouldn’t be my last family vacation, but it would be the last vacation I took with my family until 1990.  That’s sixteen years!

1975 is easy to explain.  My roomie talked me into staying at SFA for the summer as a Summer Orientation Student Assistant.  I didn’t make good choices that summer and it didn’t get any better that fall.  By the end of the Fall semester I was done with SFA.  My poor choices included missing a lot of classes and my GPA was in the dumpster.  What happened next?

The Life Detour

While I take responsibility for my bad choices, in part, I also blame the times.  The world was changing.  I had come to SFA armed with the expectations my mother gave me and those expectations did not equip me for my experience in Nacogdoches.  There were good things about my time there.  I was a more self confidant person than the somewhat gawky girl who first moved into an SFA dorm.  I had a more open mind and was more likely to take chances.  I did not have a college degree however and when it comes to poor choices, that tops the charts.

I had been sent to college so I would be able to “get a job.”  After five semesters at university I didn’t feel as if any of my courses had gotten me any further towards that goal.  Though I started out as a Liberal Arts student, those were a dime a dozen out in the job market and after my first year, my parents wanted me to get serious about my career path.  I enjoyed my business courses, but to graduate with a business degree you needed business math and after three tries I knew I wasn’t ever going to pass that course.  I made a detour over to the fashion department, but for some reason they thought anyone interested in fashion could sew, which I could not.  My real interest was writing and had been from the beginning, but my parents wouldn’t support that career track.  It was one thing for me to be a Liberal Arts student my first year, but after that I needed to focus on getting a job.

Now I know I would have been so much better off if I’d just stayed the course and gotten a Liberal Arts degree.  Any degree is better than no degree at all.  I also know there are all kinds of jobs related to writing.  You don’t have to become a Pulitzer Prize reporter or write the next best seller.  You can write ad copy, do technical writing, even be a reader for publishing house, but I didn’t know enough about anything to even know those kind of jobs existed.  Neither did my parents.

Getting a Job 

When I announced I was leaving SFA, I reminded my parents they had sent me there to get a job and I was certain I could get a job without a degree.  Besides, since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I didn’t know what to get the degree in.  We didn’t discuss the writing thing.  The subject was taboo.

I did get a job pretty quickly.  By February of 1976 I was working for Sears as a management trainee.  You had to work there for a year to be eligible for a vacation.  When 1977 rolled around, all my SFA buddies were graduating and several of them were going to the Bahamas to celebrate.  Since I’d been working, I had money in the bank.  Guess who decided to go with them?

I still have fourteen years to explain, but I think it would be more fun to go to the Bahamas.  Come by next week and join me!

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Gulf Coast Goodies

TRAVEL THERE: FROM PLANTATIONS TO PO’ BOYS

When it comes to travel, food is a just part of the fun, but if you’re talking Gulf Coast, it’s a big part of the fun.  On this trip I’ve had crawfish in Evangeline Country, nibbled on beignets and dined at Brennan’s.  Over the next few days, food moved to the forefront.  I had fried this and broiled that.  I had seafood stuffed with crab and shrimp in all kinds of formats.  I had seafood every time it was on the menu and I loved every bite of it, but there’s more to the Gulf Coast than seafood.  Come see what I mean.

Plantations

Just outside of New Orleans is the River Road.  Along it you’ll find one plantation after another.  In this day and age, slavery is a slippery slope.  Anything and everything associated with it is pretty much off limits.  I get it.  Slavery was bad.  What I don’t get is trying to revise history.  It’s like some people want to erase the first century of America’s existence, including anyone and everyone that owned a slave.

Well, America didn’t invent slavery or even participate in the worst of it.  It’s been a part of every society, virtually from the beginning of time and some slaves did a whole lot more that work in the fields or clean house.  If someone wants to erase slavery from the history books, they’re going to have to get a pretty big eraser.  Name a society from the Egyptians to the Mayans to the Celts – well to anyone you want to name.  They all had slaves, along with practicing a myriad of other sins – discrimination against women, child labor, sex trafficking, cruelty to animals – pretty much anything and everything we complain about ourselves today.  It’s really quite myopic to want discard everything American that is in anyway related to slavery and the Civil War.

If you are one of the eradicators, I don’t recommend the River Road to you.  You’ll be for pulling down the plantations and that would be a shame.  To begin with, the architecture is stunning, but it is also surprising.  While some are luxurious, you’ll most likely be surprised at how small the houses of the plantation owners were and many of them were quite plain.  Hopefully, visiting the River Road will get the Gone with the Wind images out of your mind and put you in touch with what it was really like to live out in the country raising cotton and rice.

Like many things on this trip, I can’t actually remember visiting the River Road plantations with my family, but I do remember recalling them when I visited them in later years.  We also saw The Myrtles, a home famous for its ghosts.  However, I’d be lying to you if I pretended I knew which order we saw them in.

Biloxi

Whatever order we saw the plantations in, Biloxi was our final destination.  While we saw a variety of sites, including taking a ride on the Shrimp Tour Train, we were in Biloxi to see Beauvior.  If slavery is off limits, then I guess Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy is beyond the pale.  Rather than apologize, I’ll just direct you to this post  I wrote back in 2012.  The president has changed, but my politics haven’t.

At Biloxi we stayed on the beach, though I can’t remember our accommodations.  I know about the beach, because Mom’s coiffure, which was pouffy in New Orleans, is decidedly flat in Biloxi.  That indicates time spent in the water and we’ve always enjoyed sea water more than pools.  One of the pictures on my scrapbook page is also seashells in the sand.

Were I to go on this trip today, I’m sure I’d have more than my fair share of food pictures, taken with my phone.  As I write I can see piping hot oyster po’ boys.  I can see baskets filled with fried potatoes, hushpuppies and shrimp, still sizzling from the hot grease.  My mouth is watering from the memory, but we used film back then and it was expensive – so we didn’t take all those food pictures we do now.  In fact, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been considered particularly polite and manners were quite important.

Our Gulf Shores vacation was over.  It was time to take Aunt Edie home and get back to Dallas.  Next week I’ll shift gears a little.  Come see where we’re headed.

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Nawlins

TRAVEL BUG TALES: THE CHATEAU HOTEL AND THE FRENCH QUARTER

It’s 1974.  I’m about to start my second year of college, Nixon just resigned and we’re in the French Quarter.  Come along and join the fun.

The Chateau Hotel

As I’ve told you before, Holiday Inn tended to be our usual accommodations, but for New Orleans we stayed right in the French Quarter at The Chateau Hotel I’m happy to report that you can stay there today if you want to.  I confess I was thrilled, just by the mere fact that it wasn’t our usual roadside motel.  It was an honest to goodness hotel right in the middle of everything.

I remember entering our room and walking right to the windows to look out at the French Quarter.  It was exhilarating to see something besides a freeway.  Our first night in town we had to grab a quick bite and get back to the hotel in time for my parents to see the infamous news conference featuring Richard Nixon’s resignation.

In addition to being right in the middle of the French Quarter, The Chateau Hotel also had an amazing courtyard where breakfast was served each morning.  Those morning meals are among my favorite memories of the trip.  I am devoted to al fresco dining and for all I know, this is where my passion for it originated.

The French Quarter

Once breakfast was over, Mom had our itinerary all planned out.  We set out on foot to see the sights.  The tour started at Jackson Square to visit St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo.  Beignets at Cafe du Monde were de rigueur, but I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had better.

I can’t remember all the places Mom dragged us to over the next few days, but I can tell you that we ate dinner at Brennan’s, another treat you can still enjoy.  Supposedly, according to tradition, breakfast is the meal you are really supposed to eat at Brennan’s, but for my mom, having dinner there was just the bomb.  Dad had to put on a suit and tie.  Mom and Aunt Edie wore maxi-skirts, all the rage at the time.  There is no pictorial record of what Susan and I wore, but I do remember the meal.

I chose Chicken Madeira as my entree.  I was very impressed with myself, because it had a wine sauce.  Being a Baptist, my mom didn’t cook with wine, so at the time I didn’t realize the alcohol always cooked out.  I thought I was being a bit naughty.  Mom and Dad were afraid I wouldn’t like it and to tell the truth, I wasn’t all that crazy about it, but there was no way I was going to admit it.

For dessert, I had their famous pecan pie.  I’ll confess something else.  I’d take my little sister’s pecan pie over their’s any day of the week, but at the time, she wasn’t baking any pies.  Still, I remember being under-impressed.  Brennan’s hadn’t been a big hit with me.

With my dessert, I had coffee and I’d never had coffee before.  I’d been away at school and could have had coffee with every meal, even though my parents had never offered me any.  I just wasn’t interested.  At Brennan’s the waiter convinced me I couldn’t leave their restaurant without having some of their famous chicory coffee.  So, my first taste of coffee was a baptism by bitterness.  I still don’t drink coffee.

So that was my family vacation to New Orleans.  I’ve been several times since.  My favorite New Orleans cuisine is a toss up between a big ole bowl of BBQ Shrimp or a Muffalatta sandwich from a storefront my friend Michael took me to.  I know I’d rather eat BBQ Shrimp than anything Brennan’s has on the menu.  And speaking of Brennan’s, if you have to choose between Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace, I’d vote for Commander’s Palace.  New Orleans really is a culinary treat, but I wouldn’t have known it from that 1974 visit.

The next page in my scrapbook says I am Biloxi Bound, so I hope you’ll join me next week for a little Gulf Shore fun.

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Libraries, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Evangeline in Louisiana

TRAVEL BUG TALES: CRAWDADS AND ACADIANS

“This is the forest primeval,” is the beginning phrase of Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline It’s a fictional story of love lost and then found too late.  It’s also about political injustice, because French settlers of Canada, called Acadians, were deported by the British, just for being Catholics.  In the story, Evangeline is among the deportees who were sent to Louisiana – hence Evangeline Parish.  Let’s go visit.

Traveling Evangeline Country

Though I can’t remember all the logistics between Dallas and Evangeline Country, I do remember being sick and tired of riding in the back seat on a sticky August afternoon.  We had Aunt Edie with us, which was fun, but I’m guessing we hit the road around 4 AM.  By late afternoon I’m sure I was second guessing my decision to go on this family vacation.

We piled out of the car at a Mardi Gras museum, but I’m not sure where it was.  They were very proud of the fact that they’d been doing Mardi Gras a lot longer than New Orleans.  The museum was full of beautiful costumes, but the best part was the air conditioning!  There was also a lot of material about Acadian history.  They were very interested in visitors understanding that while outsiders may think the terms Cajun and Creole are interchangeable, Cajuns and Creoles don’t.  Cajuns descended from the Acadians.  Creoles are descended from the French mixing with various other races, especially around New Orleans.  Creoles probably thought Cajuns were hicks, while Cajuns claimed a purer racial lineage, which was much more important back in the 70’s than it is today.

Ça C’est Bon

Regardless of their racial heritage, Cajuns know how to eat.  That evening we ate the local cuisine.  Mom had done her research and we had dinner at what was supposed to be THE place to eat crawfish.  I keep thinking the name of it was Anderson’s, but don’t hold me to that.

Wherever it was, it was a great, big barn-like place.  The menu offered crawfish this, crawfish that and crawfish whatever else.  I was a little squeamish about sucking heads, but the rest of it sounded pretty good to me.  I’m sure I got some sort of combo plate so I could try it more than one way.  I’m also pretty sure that everyone else chose more traditional seafood choices, like fried shrimp and then sampled my entrees.  I’ve always been a little more food adventurous than the rest of my family.

We probably spent the night at a Holiday Inn.  That’s where we usually stayed.  The next day we moved on to New Orleans.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

The Big Easy

Seeing the USA in our Chevrolet

TRAVEL TALK: TURN IT UP! THAT’S MY SONG!

The Trip That Didn’t Happen

Some people say they found themselves when they went away to college.  I think I always knew who I was, but I did try out a few other personalities.  One of them showed up the day I called Mom to tell her I was going to New Orleans with some friends.  Mom threw a conniption fit, but I held on to my guns. I was going to New Orleans and since she wasn’t in Nacogdoches, there wasn’t much she could do about it.

Only I didn’t go.  I can’t remember what kind of teen-aged drama played out to keep me in my dorm room, but I do remember pouting all weekend.  I also remember wanting to call Mom and complain to her, but I couldn’t because I was punishing her.  Aren’t we silly sometimes?

Were I a psychologist, I would probably expound on why Mom chose Louisana that year for the summer vacation, but I’m just a travel blogger, so I’ll leave it to your speculation.  Choosing hot, humid August for traveling probably had a lot to do with my summer job.  The big news was that Aunt Edie was going with us.

The Trip That Did Happen

Poor Aunt Edie was stuck in the back seat with the two Kool-Aid lovers.  We didn’t actually love Kool-aid, but in those days, Bill Cosby was the bomb and my sister adored him.  She played the LP “To Russell My Brother Whom I Slept With” so many times, the whole family had it memorized.  Mom often adopted the Kool-Aid moniker to refer to Susan and I.

Aunt Edie sat in the middle, straddling the hump, because if we’d had to determine which one of us would sit next to her, there would have been all out war.  We’d grown up enough for Mom to abandon I Spy, Twenty Questions, Travel Bingo Cards and personalized grab bags, but not enough for Aunt Edie to have a relaxing ride in the back seat.

Whispering Bill Anderson (Vinyl, LP, Album) album coverThe Radio

Eight track tapes were all the rage, but having a player in your car cost extra, so our Chevrolet didn’t have one.  Dad was an AM radio aficionado anyway – because that’s where the sports were.  Because of Dad, I have a fine ear for sportscasting.  I can tell which sport is being broadcast, just from the cadence of the sportscaster’s voice, even when I can’t hear individual words.

Radio is a bit of an adventure on the road, because you have to take what’s available, especially when all you have is an AM radio.  When Dad could find baseball or news, that’s what we’d listen to, because he was in charge.  He also preferred country and western music over rock and roll, so if he could tune in Whispering Bill Anderson or Charlie Pride, then that’s what we’d listen to.

Thankfully, we’d also go through places where all we could pick up was Top 40 Hits.  That’s when Susan and I would perk up and pay attention.  Even though I remember the trip as a series of newscasts and sportscasts, highlighted with a baseball games, according to Aunt Edie, the whole trip was one great big rock and roll experience.  She claimed each time a new song came on the radio, either Susan or I would shout out, “That’s my song!  Turn it up!” and then we’d both bounce to the rhythm of the music.

Related imageNixon Resigns

There was something else happening on the radio on that trip, though I didn’t appreciate the significance of it at the time.  Much like the Blue Dress incident of Clinton’s day and our current fascination with collusion, our nation was preoccupied with the matter of Watergate.  The news was full of speculation, but late in the afternoon, the newscast was so dire that my dad pulled off the road and into a parking lot.  We listened as it was announced Nixon had called a news conference that evening and word was he would resign.  My dad cried.  And that’s not something that happened very often.  He forecast our nation would be forever changed by this and he was right.

Looking back from this day to that, it seems as if our nation has been constantly embroiled in some expensive Congressional hearing – Watergate, Iran Contra, Monica Lewinsky, Fast and Furious, Benghazi and now Russian Collusion, among so many others.  How much money has all this investigating cost our nation and what good has it really done for anyone?  It’s all political one-up-man-ship.  What if instead it had been spent on feeding the poor, our failing infrastructure, education, improving our health system?  Anything but politicians trying to oust their opponents.

I usually avoid political discussions here on my blog, but that day began a new era in American politics.  The presidency was vulnerable and you didn’t have to win an election to unseat the Leader of the Free World.  It hadn’t been the ill-advised break-in which had led to the popular president’s demise.  It had been the cover-up.  It had also been technology.  He had tapes and it was his own tapes which had undermined his term.  Today’s scandals are all about technology.  We don’t question whether the Russians used social media to influence the election, but the Mueller investigation is desperately looking for the text or e-mail that proves our president colluded with the Russians, even though collusion is not even a crime.

I’ll climb off my soap box.  Susan and I didn’t grasp the magnitude of what we’d heard.  Our lives had been influenced by other milestones – the assassination of JFK, Viet Nam, man walking on the moon, Kent State and LBJ refusing to run for re-election.  These seems like momentous events.  Watergate seemed like much ado about nothing.  For now, we’re almost to Evangeline County.  Come back next week for some crawfish.

Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

What Was That About Padre

TRAVEL BUGS TALES: PICKING UP WHERE I LEFT OFF

Has it really been almost two years since my last Travel Bug Tales post?  Yep, Novemeber of 2016, so that’s almost two years.  Friends, we’ve done a lot of traveling together since then. 

Instead of trying to explain the Travel Bug sabbatical, I’ll just get busy and pick up where I left off.  If you’ve been hanging around here for a long time, then you know, Travel Bug Tales are stories from my pre-blog days – in particular from my youth, when my love for travel first started.

If you’ve just shown up in the last year or so, then let me explain.  Travel used to be different.  You didn’t have a smart phone, flip phone or even a mobile phone.  You had pay phones.  Hence there was no GPS, no texting, no email and no internet.  You just took out on the road with no digital means of support and hoped for the best.  Personally, I thought it was a lot more fun.  Come along with me to the beach.

The Padre Trip

Right before I abandoned Travel Bug Tales, I promised to tell you about a trip to Padre Island, one of the beaches we visited in Mom’s effort to find a Texas replacement for Myrtle Beach, her favorite place on Earth.  For this particular vacation, we traveled with another family.  The Smiths had boys and my parents had girls.  All the Smith boys, but one, were too old to go on a family vacation and Tracy was my sister’s age.  Actually, they also had a son my age, but he stayed home – by himself.  I couldn’t decide whether to feel sorry for him or be jealous.

I can’t imagine what I would have done at home by myself.  I had a car, but I only drove it to school and church.  I’d traveled without my parents before, but only on a mission trip and on church retreats.  So, while a part of me thought it was pretty cool Kieth got to stay home by himself, the other part of me would have been devastated to miss out on the family fun.   

Still I was the odd man out any way you sliced it.  I didn’t quite fit in with the adults, but I when I spent time with the kids, I knew I wasn’t a one of them any longer either.  The picture of me standing alone on the beach sums up my vacation perfectly.

Beach Memories

I didn’t keep travel journals back in the day, so things get fuzzy, but the first stop on this trip was Corpus Christi and it was unremarkable.

Next came Padre.  While I didn’t love Myrtle Beach quite as much as my mom, I did enjoy the days we spent in the Lides’ beach house and getting up early to comb the receding tide for shells.

We three kids, Susan (my sister), Tracy (the Smiths’ son) and I, got up very early on our first morning in Padre.  Light had just begun to suggest it might appear as we hit the beach with our buckets.  Nada!  Not so much as an interesting rock.  I was so frustrated I was almost in tears.  No big deal, I was a teenager.  Tears were always at the edge of erupting.

This was only the beginning of my frustrations.  Perhaps this trip may begin to explain why I’m iffy about beaches now, when I’d lived for beach time as a kid.  I was uncomfortable in my skin.  When I threw myself into the enjoyment of the trip, I was met with frustration, like the shell-less morning on the beach.  The rest of the time I just wasn’t sure what to do with myself.  I can understand, up to a point, why kids live on their phones.  I didn’t feel like me on this trip and a phone full of friends would have been comforting.

Heading Home

The rest of the trip turned out better.  From Padre we went to San Antonio.  I never feel odd on the Riverwalk. We stayed in the Hilton which was at the turn of the river and it’s the first time I remember staying in a hotel that upscale.  My folks usually opted for Holiday Inn.

A highlight of the trip was a riverboat ride.  Susan and the adults weren’t all that interested, so Tracy and I made a round trip.  Without Susan to tend to, something very unusual in my childhood, I ignored Tracy and pretended I was by myself.  It was exhilarating.  I was discovering that while I enjoyed people, I didn’t need them to enjoy myself.

From San Antonio, the Smith’s headed to Dallas, but we made a stop in Temple to visit my beloved Aunt Edie.  Her home was my second home.  I was allowed to go for long rambling walks on my own and I loved it.  We’d go on fun shopping trips and have laughter filled lunches.

So, that was our trip to Padre.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith were good friends to my parents, but we didn’t take anymore trips together.  It wasn’t their fault that Padre didn’t stack up to Myrtle Beach, but I think it was more than that.  No one could replace the Lides for Mom and Dad.  The annual pilgrimages to Myrtle Beach began then and suddenly I was left behind, on my own.  They’d head to Myrtle Beach and I’d stay home.  I would have summer jobs and needed the money for college.

I was growing up.  There are more Travel Bug Tales, but I’m not sure which one I’ll tell you next.  Come back next week and find out where we’re headed.

 

Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Your Personal Travel Advisor

TRAVEL TALK: I’VE GIVEN MYSELF A PROMOTION

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but Monday is devoted to a recent cruise, on Wednesdays I’m still covering Egypt and on Friday’s I share my Spot On Images post.  So what’s a girl who just attended a travel show supposed to do?  I decided if I squeaked this in here you wouldn’t mind too much.  Anyway, I’ve promoted myself from Random Travel Blogger to Personal Travel Adviser and I thought I’d tell you why.

The Travel Pros

I have a lot of respect for pros in the travel industry, but at a recent Travel & Adventure Show in Dallas, I learned I didn’t have quite enough respect for myself.  I’m not Samantha Brown.  I’m not even Josh Garcia. However, I might be more valuable to you than both of those travel pros.  While travel pros can give you some great information, they do not necessarily give you the best advice.  Let me give you an example.

Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor

“Call the hotel directly and ask to speak to the MOD.” (That’s Manager On Duty for the rest of us.)  This is the advice Peter Greenberg gave to us.  He assured us this was the best way to score cheap hotel rates.

During the Q&A, the first guy to the mic challenged this advice.  He told of a call he’d made to a Las Vegas resort and the result had been just short of being laughed off the phone.  The MOD wasn’t going to be rude to a potential guest, but he wasn’t going to upgrade him to the presidential suite or comp a couple of days either.  Peter Greenberg, Emmy Award-Winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor has reason to expect that sort of treatment, but you and me and the guy at the mic?  Not so much.  Mr. Greenbers response?  Mumbling into the microphone about starting a conversation and moving to the next question.

Can a call to the MOD make a difference?  Absolutely.  Bill called the MOD at Egypt’s Mena House and negotiated an outstanding rate, but he had a reason to call.  Since he had an expired Egyptian passport, there was a chance he’d qualify for the resident rate.  Some hotels will, some won’t.  My charming husband called up and pumped the guy for information about the hotel, things he genuinely wanted to know, but he didn’t start with ‘give me a discount’.  Along the way he explained how much his travel-blogging wife wanted to stay there and lamented the good old days when his expired passport used to get him a reduced rate.  Before the call had ended, Bill had booked two nights at $75 a night.

So Mr. Greenberg was right about the advice, but he’d failed to share the conversation part and that had caused the guy at the mic to endure some unnecessary embarrassment.  I’ll give Mr. Greenberg a break.  He only has so much time to share his information and convince you to become a fan. I don’t have to squeeze everything I have to tell you into 30-45 minutes.  I dribble it out in 750-1000 word bites, but I’ve got nothing but time, so I can thoroughly explain exactly what I mean when I give you my opinion.

Back to the MOD thing – there could be any number of reasons to give him/her a call and see what happens.  If you’re a really patient person with a lot of time on your hands, then I recommend it heartily, but most of us just don’t have the time, the patience or the personality to charm the MOD.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and discovered the rate they offered didn’t even beat Expedia.  And that’s why I can give you better travel advice than the guy at the travel show.  I still face all the same challenges you do.

I’m More Like You Than I Am Them

One of the reasons you need to be a little suspect of travel pros is that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a tourist.  They had to give up being a tourist to become a pro, but sometimes when they are giving advice to tourists, they forget about the pure joy of travel.  They behave as if you get points for avoiding an expense.  Unnecessary expenses, sure, like taking a cab for a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport, instead of paying $79 to the resort for shared transfers.  You bet I’m taking the cab, but what’s their beef with balconies?

The new trend among travel pros is balcony bashing.  They whisper about interior cabins as if it wasn’t clear to anyone, even novices, that inside cabins are less expensive.  That’s not exactly a travel secret.  Can’t afford a balcony?  OK, but don’t let that keep you home.  By the same token, if a balcony sounds good and you can afford it, get it. Travel is not some kind of financial acuity exam.  In fact, the easiest way to ruin a vacation is to grieve over every penny you spend.  Have a budget, stay in it and then enjoy the heck out of yourself.

So, here I am, your personal travel adviser.  You either know me personally or you’ve come to trust what I say because you’ve been reading my blog for awhile.  You should at least know you can trust me more than an anonymous review on a travel site and since this latest travel show I attended, I know you can trust me more than the pros.

I plan to take my new position very seriously, so let me know how I can help you with your travel quandaries.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Teach Google to Help You Travel

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas

TRAVEL TALK: GET OUT THERE!

This afternoon I’ll be boarding Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas for a short cruise in the Gulf.  We dreamed up this idea one recent Sunday evening to celebrate Bill’s birthday and by Tuesday afternoon our cruise was booked.  I would have had it booked the next day, but Bill needed a day to cogitate.  Three weeks later, we’ll be on board.

CTC – Tell Sandra I sent you

How’d You Do That?

Moments after booking our cruise, I shared my glee on Facebook.  That Sunday a friend asked me how I had done it, because she figures that’s the only way she’ll ever convince her husband to go – a last minute decision.  I was a little surprised at the question.  I am so travel-focused I thought nothing of booking a cruise on short notice.  I Googled around Sunday night, had a list of the best bargains ready for Bill Monday morning and called my travel agent Tuesday morning.

Let’s start with the travel agent.  Use one!  Mine is Sandra Rubio at CTC and I highly recommend her, but wherever you are, find one and use them.  I like to do my own preliminary research, but when it comes to booking, I trust Sandra.

See, I have booked online.  It takes forever.  I’ve booked on the phone.  It takes even longer.  What’s worse, you cannot trust anything they tell you.  They don’t know.  They’ve never been there.  They may never have been out of their small town in Minnesota, but they are advising you on how to book your cruise.  You’ll have this one-time transaction with them and you could never find them again if your life depended on it.  Yet you are willing to trust them with at least $1000 of your money and more importantly your vacation!

Any deal you see online, your travel agent can get for you for the exact same price and you don’t pay them a penny in commission.  It’s their job and the cruise lines are so happy for them to do it, they gladly pay them for it.  So please, once you have an idea of your budget and where you want to go – call your travel agent!

What Not to Do!

Amazed that my friend needed coaching on booking a cruise, I asked a few pertinent questions, trying to find out what her issues were.  There were two.  She was using her phone to click Facebook advertisements.  Don’t do that!  Google what you want and do it on a computer – either a desktop or laptop.

My friend said, “When I click on the link, what I get has nothing to do with the ad.  It’s called click bait.  Just don’t.

The other issue is space.  There is only so much you can see on your phone – even if the site is optimized for it.  On a cruise site, whether it is an actual cruise company, your local travel agency or a travel consolidator, there are all kinds of tabs, buttons, searches.  You can look for places, ports, dates, ships – all kinds of stuff, but if you are looking at your phone, its like kissing through a screen door.  You can’t fall in love that way.

Go Googling

Just for fun, I googled “I want to cruise” as I wrote this post.  The first three listings were ads.  Ignore those.  They are actually marked as ads on the results page, but you have no idea how many people I discover who are amazed at this.  They’ve been looking at it for years and never saw it.

The next four results were for a site called “iwantacruise.com.”  Ignore those, too.  Somebody paid big bucks to get that url, but that doesn’t mean they know anything about cruising.  Suspect all sites that mirror your query.  In addition, I usually ignore everything from Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Thumbtack, Expedia and such until I know more.  All these types of sources let companies pay to get noticed.  It might as well be a straight out ad.  Yes, there are reviews from consumers, but until you know more, you aren’t ready for reviews.

Below that is where the good stuff is – the actual cruise lines and Cruise Critic (which is a great resource).  Because it was a non-specific query, I then got a You Tube video.  A few responses later I found Carnival Cruise Line and found out they have a pretty good website crew, because they dominated the next 10-20 listings.  That still doesn’t tell you whether Carnival is going where you want to go or even if they are a good cruise line, only that they invest money in SEO (search engine optimization) specialists.

In the search above, the first cruise line I got was Royal Caribbean.  You want to know why?  It has to do with what I’ve been looking at recently.  I’ve been all over the internet looking for information for my cruise.  I’ve researched shore excursions, looked for reviews of the on board dining, maps of the ship and the price of beverages.  I’ve been in and out of the Royal Caribbean ‘My Cruises” site, booking my cruise extras.  I’ve got emails in my Gmail from my travel agent about my cruise and an email from Royal Caribbean about my Crown & Anchor membership.  In case you hadn’t realized it yet, Google is nosy.  It makes itself aware of what I am doing on the internet – whether it’s online searches, emails or even social media.  When I asked about a cruise, it assumed I wanted to know about the cruise I was about to board.  A little creepy, but true.

So, to find out what you want to know on the internet, you first have to know what you’re looking at.  What’s clickbait?  What’s an ad?  What’s real?  I live and breathe this stuff, but Google is gambling that we don’t.  If you’re going to use Google as your resource, invest the time in getting to know it.

Long-Tailed Keyword Phrases

This day and time, the more specific your query is, the more likely you will get the information you want.  These types of queries are called long-tailed keyword phrases.  You may not care what they are called, but they are your friend.  When I came home on that recent Sunday night, I didn’t google cruises.  I googled “3 day cruises from Galveston,” because I knew that’s the port I wanted to depart from and because I wanted the shortest cruise I could find.  I also googled a couple of other things like “cheap Galveston cruises.” I usually try several queries to see which gives me the best responses. Then I start shopping, but I’ve already gone on too long about this for one post.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you more.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Travel Show Treats

TRAVEL HERE: VACATIONS START HERE

Remember when they tried to tell us travel agents were going to disappear, because everyone was going to shop for their travel online.  Well, go ahead and shop, but when it gets time to buy, call your travel agent.  They haven’t gone anywhere and they still book the greater majority of travel.  Besides that, they are free and that’s my price.  My travel agency is CTC  and my travel agent is Sandra Rubio.  Let me tell you about their recent travel show.

What I Didn’t Know

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but it would be impossible to know everything about the travel industry, because things change all the time.  The the more you know, quite frankly, the better you will travel.  Most of the things I heard at CTC’s travel expo I already knew, but as always, I picked up little tidbits.  Some things help me get better value for my travel dollar.  Others introduce me to exciting new opportunities.

Here’s some of the new tidbits I can picked up this time:

  • BOOK CRUISES EARLY and the more you care about when, where, what boat and what cabin, the earlier you need to book.  2019 is already filling up and some of the best things in 2020 are already gone.  And the industry is very, very serious about this.
  • Yes, you can get short cruises.  Used to be the norm was 14-21 days, but that doesn’t work for Boomers or Millennials and that’s who’s driving the industry now.  There are lots of short 4-5 day cruises leaving American ports and 8-10 day cruises all over the world.
  • Say good-bye to losing your boarding card.  Royal Caribbean will be giving you a watch programmed with all your essentials.  Another line is working on a piece of jewelry that can be worn in several ways that will hold you essential info – not just your beverage program, but how you like your martinis!  Thank RFID technology.
  • Being single is becoming less of problem.  Remember those Boomers and Millennials who are driving the industry?  Well, most of them are single and even if they are not, some of them prefer traveling alone.  The travel industry has listened!  There’s an emerging market of single bookings available.  Price quoted double occupancy is still the norm, but you’re no longer required to make friends with a stranger or put up with your crazy cousin to afford traveling alone.  You’ll still have to do your homework, for now.  There are limited choices, but watch for this to pick up momentum.  For now, check out Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Cunard.
  • Get a passport!  Changes are coming.  Security and documentation for travel, even domestic travel, is quickly getting more and more demanding.  While for the time being you can still enjoy closed loop cruising or domestic flights without a passport, the clock is ticking.  They’ve got things in the works that will make flight documentation so cumbersome that you’ll want a passport – even if you’re just flying from Dallas to San Antonio for a long weekend.  And by the way, 13 airports in our world now have bio-metric security measures.  Expect it on your travels soon.
  • Thank Millennials for  community spaces in your hotel.  Have you noticed business centers have moved to the front of the hotel?  There was a time when finding the business center to check your email or send a fax (Ha! remember faxes?) meant wandering into the bowels of your hotel and you’d be very alone when you got there.  If you’ve visited a new hotel or a newly renovated one, then you’ve probably noticed bright, comfortable workspaces near the entrance.  These inviting communal spaces, the snack/wine bar and other property amenities are there to lure Millennials.  Since so many of them are self-employed, tele-commuting from home or working in other alternative spaces, they crave getting out of the four walls of their hotel room.  They want places to meet with their clients without taking them back to their room or going to Starbucks.  Their demand is our gain.  Not only is there a more attractive place to check your email, chances are there will be an inviting buzz in the lobby around 5 o’clock, the workout room will not be a grungy place where old gym equipment goes to die and who knows, there might even be grill on the patio!
  • All the new fees are not a product of your imagination – get used to it.  It started with the airlines, but it didn’t stop there.  First, it was baggage fees and box lunches.  Now, there’s fee for having an assigned seat or legroom.   Who knows when they’ll figure out how to charge you a fee for the air you breathe!  But that’s not the worst part.  The hotels, resorts, car rental agencies, tour operators, etc., etc. etc. of the world observed what the airline industry did and now you’ll find they are adding fees to their tab, too.  Tickets represent only 71% of airline revenue and with Spirit Airlines, that goes down to 60% – everything else is fees.  Hotels took in $2.7 Billion (with a B!) during a recent year and the number is just beginning to climb.  Bottom line, that online price is just the beginning.  Another reason to get to know your local travel agent!
  • New ships coming!  Cruising just gets more popular everyday.  Ninety-seven new cruise ships are scheduled to be launched from 2017-2025.  Yes, some of them are huge, like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, but smaller ships are wildly popular, too.  Ritz Carlton will be launching 298-passenger yachts. Emerald,a river cruising enterprise, is about to enter the small ocean-going ship market.  Celebrity is about to launch a new ship concept with The Edge.  Viking is churning out longships and small ocean-going ships as fast as it can.

That should be enough to tempt you off your sofa (even with all the fees).  So come on out and choose a vacation.  You’ll be glad you did.  Tell them Jane sent you!